Rarely does someone anoint an artist “The Greatest of All Time,” in a situation where it is not wildly hyperbolic. However, when the title is deserved, it is often given to older, more established artists. It is only in a moment of overwhelming greatness (for example, with Michael Jackson), that someone will proclaim a more contemporary artist “The Greatest.”
Today, we are going to argue that Beyoncé is indeed the greatest diva of all time. We admit, there are and have been divas of yesterday, last week, and right now who are stronger in areas where Beyoncé is lacking: Mary J. Blige’s music is more raw and personal; Gladys Knight and Aretha Franklin are arguably better singers; Mariah Carey’s vocal range is out of control; and Diana Ross set the standard for diva attitude and glamour. But individual skill in particular areas does not the greatest diva make.
One must first take into account Beyoncé’s “diva journey.” She was the star of Destiny’s Child, so much so that the group is lovingly nicknamed by some, “Beyoncé an’ ‘em.” This was solidified on the famous Rolling Stone Cover with Beyoncé posing as Diana Ross, and Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams as the Supremes. Everyone knew she was the star, and nobody cared! Even if she was being pushed to the front to outshine her bandmates by her father Matthew Knowles, we still loved her and the fact that her shy, innocent demeanor melted away in her performances.
When she finally dropped the backup singers (the other members of Destiny’s Child,) and launched her solo career with Crazy In Love, the world didn’t miss Kelly and Michelle at all — Beyoncé was finally in the place she was supposed to be: she had the room to be spectacular, the freedom to take up all the space she wanted without having to worry about how it would affect the rest of her team. It was clear that a solo career was the appropriate move.
It is important to note that the quality of Beyoncé’s singing, dancing, and overall performance has gotten significantly better over the years. Compare these two performances of Crazy in Love. The first is a 2003 performance, and the second is from her Beyoncé Experience tour in 2007:
Her voice has clearly gotten stronger, her performance has more energy, and she has completey adopted a persona that represents power, grace, and beauty.
We have to look at not just her individual talents, but at Beyoncé as a whole package. She’s a good singer, but she is also a very good dancer and even better performer. Beyoncé’s greatest asset is combining these strengths, which alone might not make her so impressive. Beyoncé has also created a brand, one that she’s been building since her days in Destiny’s Child. She represents female power and self-determination, but not in a way that alienates certain audiences: her type of feminism does not intimidate those who think feminism is a dirty word.
Dually, she does not present her sexuality in a way that is demeaning or that would be frowned on by feminists. Though she does at times give in to some traditional gendered power structures, (in Upgrade U, she says: “I can do for you what Martin did for the people/ran by the men but the women keep the tempo,”) she maintains the idea that the woman’s role is essentially equally (if not more) important. But what is so special about her brand of female power is that is it uniquely feminine. Too often are strong women, particularly strong black women, looked upon in society as having masculine traits because of their strength. Beyoncé turns this view on its head so the strength she presents isn’t secondary to that of a man—it stands alone and is still feminine. Most importantly, watching her makes you feel this power.
No other so-called diva has ever been able to mesh sexuality, femininity, and strength in this way. We challenge you to think of one diva that has. Beyoncé is the greatest diva of all time because she has redefined the meaning of “The Diva.” No longer is she one dimensional, overly pampered and frivolous: she is strong and decisive, yet glamorous. She makes her own money, and she is a real woman.